Despite the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations won by Cote d’Ivoire in Equatorial Guinea Sunday being dogged by controversy with disputed penalties and rioting supporters, that it was pulled off at such short notice should be a huge credit to the abilities of a continent renown for its resilience.
Pictures of rioting incidents and attempts to assault a referee were some of the unsavoury competition pictures beamed around the world on television, appalling many Africans.
But for a tournament arranged in the host country at such short notice, including readying two new stadia in less than two months, few will begrudge the organisational hiccups, even if they never seemed too far away.
The incidents hurt the reputation of football on the continent, although African Football Confederation (CAF) president Issa Hayatou, backed by Fifa president Sepp Blatter, saw things differently.
Taking exception to the international media coverage, the veteran Hayatou accused the western press of “perpetuating colonisation” as similar events occurred in Europe without as much uproar.
“When something bad happens in Europe, they say it’s an error. When something happens in Africa, they begin talking about corruption,” said Hayatou.
“The western media are simply here to perpetuate colonisation.”
Hard done by
Tunisia, who felt hard done by after Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn awarded a dubious stoppage-time penalty from which Equatorial Guinea equalised before going on to reach the semi-finals, refused to apologise to CAF for the behaviour of their players and officials.
Unless an apology is received by the end of March, Tunisia will be barred from competing in the 2017 Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The difficulties around the 2015 Cup of Nations began when original hosts Morocco were stripped of the right to stage Africa’s football showpiece after raising concerns over the spread of the deadly Ebola epidemic.
This left late replacements Equatorial Guinea with just two months to prepare for the 16-nation tournament.
Morocco have been barred from both the 2017 and 2019 Cup of Nations tournaments.
Oil-rich central African country Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the tournament with neighbours Gabon three years ago, using capital Malabo and main city Bata.
But to host the 2015 Cup of Nations they had to include eastern towns Mongomo and Ebebiyin, and build new stadiums there.
“We had only 50 days to prepare for this tournament. We worked very hard, day and night, to ensure the competition was played in Africa and not outside,” said proud organising committee chairman Francisco Pascual Obama Asue.
“This must be a source of pride for us and the whole of Africa.”
Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, were mentioned as possible hosts had no African country come forward to take over from Morocco.
Equatorial Guinea brought in Cuban doctors and adopted stringent measures to combat the spread of Ebola virus at entry points and match venues. This ensured the country was safe for both residents and visitors.
“Equatorial Guinea have done very well to host this competition at such short notice, even my country backed out after pressure from many interest groups. They deserved commendation,” said Ghana Football Association (GFA) president Kwesi Nyantakyi, who is also a CAF executive.
“This was nicknamed the ‘Ebola tournament’, but in the end no one was even talking about this fear anymore because everything was well taken care of.”
The football on offer showed a great deal of European influence with tighter defences and more tactical awareness, and this was expected because only three of the teams were led by African coaches.
A total of 68 goals were scored in 32 matches for an average of 2.12 goals per game—slightly below the 2.15 recorded two years ago in South Africa.
Exciting footballers like Andre Ayew of Ghana, Thievy Bifouma of Congo Brazzaville, Ibrahima Traore of Guinea and Gervinho of Cote d’Ivoire shone.
The group games were full of suspense right up to the last round with the runners-up in Group D decided by a drawing of lots between Guinea and Mali after the sides tied on points, head-to-head, goal difference and goals scored.
The pressure for results meant three coaches have already gone –- Alain Giresse of Senegal, Michel Dussuyer of Guinea and Paul Put of Burkina Faso –- and there are strong indications that Volker Finke of Cameroon will not have his contract extended when it expires in May.
In the absence of defending champions Nigeria and record seven-time winners Egypt, experts predicted a very open tournament, but in the end two of Africa’s powerhouses –- Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana –- clashed in a decider than went to penalties before the Ivorians emerged 9-8 winners.